Cabernet Franc: Time for the bridesmaid to step up to the altar
Despite being in the top 20 most planted grapes in the world, Cabernet Franc may not necessarily be one of those grapes that you seek out when looking for wine. It tends to keep a low profile - more of a bridesmaid than the bride. But, for years overlooked, Cabernet Franc is reckoned to be on the upward trend.
The Cabernet Franc grape characteristics
Black grape variety Cabernet Franc is a bit of a workhorse, more often seen as a support grape to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and used as an insurance should those grapes not have chance to ripen fully due to poor weather. Many Bordeaux wines have Cabernet Franc as a minority grape in the blend - the notable exception is the renowned St Emilion Grand Cru, Château Cheval-Blanc, which, instead of having Merlot as the majority grape, has c. 60% Cabernet Franc; it is considered by some to be the finest Bordeaux wine. Increasingly however Cabernet Franc is being seen as a varietal grape on its own.
Which grapes is Cabernet Franc related to?
As the name suggests it is in fact related to Cabernet Sauvignon though it was only about 20 years ago that DNA profiling confirmed Cabernet Franc to be a parent to Cabernet Sauvignon (the other being Sauvignon Blanc). A fruity little number in more ways than one, Cabernet Franc has also been discovered to be a parent to Merlot and to Carmenère.
Cabernet Franc wines
Cabernet Franc shares many characteristics of Cabernet Sauvignon though it is lighter in many ways - lighter in body, tannin, alcohol, colour and acidity - so it makes a good alternative for those who find Cabernet Sauvignon a little over the top. Generally medium bodied Cabernet Franc still has sufficient structure, fruit, acidity and tannins to age well - and age earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon. It is also generally much easier to drink, lighter and softer with a smooth texture. In fact it can be a very elegant wine. The overriding feature however is its perfume.
Fruit characteristics abound in Cabernet Franc, think berries and cherries: raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, cherries along with plums. Other common aromas and flavours include green pepper, green olives, violets, sweet tobacco, graphite/ pencil shavings and blackcurrant bush leaf. The herbaceous aromas are more prominent when the grapes used in the wine have not been ripened fully. And this is the one downside to Cabernet Franc.
One word of caution
Cabernet Franc has long been seen as a varietal in the red wines of Touraine in the Loire Valley, wines such as Chinon and Bourgeuil and in parts of North-East Italy, Friuli and Veneto. At their best these wines can be fresh, fruity, low alcohol wines with a distinct raspberry and pencil shavings aroma profile. But those originating from particularly cool summers can taste rather austere and be especially light in body. So to ensure a softer wine with good texture and integrated tannins, avoid those produced in cool vintages.
Note Cabernet Franc is also known as Bouchet, Bordo, Breton and Cabernet Frank. Italian wines labelled Cabernet are usually Cabernet Franc.
Is Cabernet Franc becoming more popular?
The good news is that Cabernet Franc is being grown more extensively, including in some warm climate areas, in South West France e.g. Madiran, in Argentina, Chile, Australia, South Africa and in the USA. In Canada it is even being seen as an ice wine.
If you are a fan of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Carmenère, give Cabernet Franc a try. You will be pleasantly surprised by its elegance, complexity and its beautiful perfume. As there is a general move away from higher-alcohol reds, Cabernet Franc could come into its own at last.
Food Pairing with Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Franc's acidity and body make it a good match for a number of different foods. Its herbaceous characteristics make it a particularly good match for game, lamb, duck and for herby and olive- and tomato-based dishes. It will go well with most red meats, with mushrooms, peppers and with many cheeses including brie, camembert, smoked cheeses and even goats cheese.
But don't forget guideline number 1 of our food and wine-matching tips - look first at the intensity of the food and match heavier, more intensely flavoured wines with stronger-flavoured foods and lighter styles with more delicate flavours.
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